With almost one-fifth of the UK population (9 million people) stating that they often or always feel lonely, more needs to be done to educate people on how to combat feelings of loneliness.
Short-term loneliness can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:
- Moving to a new area
- Experiencing trauma
Whereas long-term loneliness can be caused by:
- Not having a support system of family or friends
- Feeling excluded due to mobility problems
- Being diagnosed with an illness or disability that is stigmatised
This is not an exhaustive list and regardless of whether you are experiencing loneliness on a long-term basis or short-term basis, there are things that you can do to combat these feelings.
Symptoms of loneliness
Symptoms of loneliness can be physical as well as mental. The physical symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Weight gain stemming from a lack of energy
- Lower immune system causing persistent illness
- Eating more than usual and opting for unhealthy food
- Spending more time in the shower, with hotter water
- Poor sleeping habits
- Caring less
- Lowered self-esteem
Loneliness in the elderly
There are over two million elderly people aged 75 and above who live alone, half of which admitted to spending more than a month without seeing or speaking to someone.
Elderly people can feel lonely for a variety of reasons including not being able to get out and about, a lack of confidence to invite people over and an inability to travel to local activities.
Investing in elderly care is a fantastic way of dealing with loneliness. Not only will you be visited regularly by an experienced carer who can help you maintain your independence at home (and often becomes a close friend), they can also help you maintain an active social life.
Loneliness in those with a disability
Research shows that half of the people who have been diagnosed with a disability feel lonely, with one in four stating that they feel this way daily.
Obstacles between those who don’t have a disability and those who do include a lack of understanding or awareness and the practicalities involved in various activities.
How to overcome loneliness
Loneliness impacts us physically as well as mentally and can be as damaging as both obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Whether you are feeling lonely because you have recently lost someone, or have been diagnosed with a condition that makes you feel separated from those around you; there are things that you can do:
A great way to tackle loneliness is to request talking therapy from your GP. This type of therapy provides a safe space for you to explore your feelings and find positive ways to manage them.
Take care of yourself
There are a variety of self-care techniques that can help strengthen you during feelings of loneliness. This includes:
- Getting the right amount of sleep
- Taking regular exercise
- Eating a healthy diet (maintaining your blood sugar levels)
- Spending time outside, particularly around nature.
Cuddle an animal
Interacting with either dogs or cats increases dopamine and serotonin levels. Therefore, spending time with a furry friend can reduce depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness.
Whether you adopt a pet or visit your local cat cafe try spending time around animals when feeling particularly lonely. You may be surprised by the results.
Try something new
A new experience can help you meet new people and find a new passion. You could volunteer, take a class or join a new group.
If that sounds like too much for you right now, you could look into your local befriending service. Whether you are looking for a new friend or are interested in volunteering; this is a great way to dip your toes into a new experience.